Saturday, April 24, 2010

France: Senlis

On my last day of sightseeing in France, I went to the medieval town of Senlis, which at one point was the capital of France. A short 15 minute drive away from my hotel, it was easy to get to. Considering that a large garden fair was going on in the city park, I am lucky to have found a parking place. I headed to the inner walled city, which was practically deserted. Except for the few cars scattered about, the it could have been a rainy morning during the Black Death. No footsteps, carts, or birds disturbed the damp air.

Everything in France, with the exception of Paris, closes down between noon and 2pm and being jetlagged, I did not arrive in Senlis until 11:30. I started wandering about but quickly realized that no museum, restroom, or shop was open. To kill time, I headed for the cathedral, which had just finished its Palm Sunday services. In the middle of the nave, a priest was conducting a baptismal ceremony. I sat in back to listen to his chanting and his French. His melodic voice reverberated off the walls and practically shook the pews. What a wonderful demonstration of medieval acoustics. Imagine the uneducated peasant living in a hovel, coming here several times a week. The voice of the priest must have sounded like the voice of God itself and the high reaching vaults must have felt like heaven. Every time I visit Europe, I am drawn to the old churches and the Catholic ceremonies. I think if I lived there, I would have to convert. The church seems as much a part of the country as the language.

Senlis Medieval Images


Senlis is known for it narrow, cobblestone streets, and medieval airs. I found the reputation to be well deserved. After several hours of walking about on the cobblestones, my feet were aching. Like, Chantilly, I was surprised at how barren the town looked. No colorful signs or flower boxes extended from the walls. The whole area seemed to be in the grip of an eternal dreariness.

Another interesting door

After 2PM, and things opened again, I headed for the old capitol museum. This is a series of ruins inside a walled courtyard. The ruins were from old churches, towers, and governmental buildings. The nicer of the bunch has been converted into a museum of hunting, which was free with admission and only took 15 minutes to peruse.


The cathedral from the south

Interior vaulting

The east entrance

Machine gun impressions, reminding us that life if suffering no matter what era you live in

I also stopped by the tourist information center, which is in the Cathedral square and picked up a walking map of the town. I had found that I had walked most of the old town already and so decided to venture outwards somewhat from the old town to some of the newer areas. It did not take long to get lost because the route had me going up a well concealed staircase that skirted several buildings. Through careful backtracking, I finally found it. There are 4 walking tours through the town, so do stop by the tourist center for you map.

Exterior and interior of the hunting museum


I am glad that I took a couple of extra days before my conference, because once it started, I was a captive from 8am to 10:30pm and would not have seen a thing otherwise. My three destinations covered the gamut. The Chateau de Chantilly gave me a taste of the grandeur and decadence of the aristocracy, the Royaumont Abby peace and industry of the cloisters, and Senlis the narrowness (both physical and mental) of a medieval village.

A more modern part of the walking tour

greenway near the old walls

Once again I apologize for the quality of the photography. Time to get a new travel camera!

5 comments:

  1. I love that eternal dreariness and those beautiful streets. This is also the reason I never tire of Britain. Love it. Love it all!

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  2. That must be the epitome of dreariness - a rainy morning during the Black Death!

    that's what I remember about living in France - when France doesn't want to do civic prettiness, it jolly well doesn't do it!

    Impressive parallel parking skills the citizens of Senlis must have to acquire. I could never live there!

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  3. Was just in Senlis a couple of days ago -- what a treat! The cathedral is great, and the presently closed Saint-Pierre church is even more haunting. We were lucky to be there on a Tuesday (market day), and the center-city streets were closed to traffic. Our only disappointment was that we didn't discover Senlis sooner, as we were to catch our flight home later on in the day. We'll definitely be back!

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  4. I seem to recall there was a Chateau Chamont (Not Chaumont)in Senlis. Town is rather near Paris and I was there for a brief stayover with my engineer outfit when in the army, just as VE day was celebrated (a number of us managed to get to Paris on that Memorable May 8 day!). (Outfit then moved to Marseille in preparation to ship out to the Pacific to wind up the war there!)
    The chateau was kind of beat up (we "tented" outside, nearby).In my "memory" the chateau existed, but no mention made of it here. Maybe in a nearby town...

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